UPDATED: See end of article
Some scattered thoughts…
There is a danger in disputation without memory. Such becomes positivism, then coercion.
American jurisprudence is constantly tending this way. One could argue that after the Obergefell case, this has been embraced entirely. Such a trajectory will entail social collapse if not corrected.
But nations rise and fall.
Far worse if the same should occur in the Church.
If the earthly Church abandons her memory, then all must reduce to positivism in liturgy, doctrine, and morality: “Present authority permits or does not clearly condemn x, therefore x is admissible.” Doubtless more of this is imminent.
A clear example is found in liturgical positivism. In the Novus Ordo, a given element is termed inadmissible as an “abuse”… but is it an abuse because it’s illegal, or is it illegal because it’s an abuse?
A person is accosted for foregoing a NO Mass after learning that a local Wiccan representative will be in the liturgical processions, standing as honorguard in the sanctuary, etc. Bishop and priests conclude that this is permissible since no rubric flatly forbids it. Some admit “it’s unfortunate.” Liturgical positivism.
But why “unfortunate”?
This and other abuses are certainly violations, but of what? The most recent Novus Ordo rubrics? Some do violate these.
But some don’t. Some are endorsed by Bishops.
And if the latest Novus Ordo missal edition, GIRM, Congregation letter, or Bishop’s guidelines are the sole criteria for determining worship pleasing to God… then the liturgical positivist must affirm them all, or at least not condemn them.
And if what is forbidden today is acceptable tomorrow (the more so if by papal decree – never mind critiques of ultramontanism or papolatry), then the positivist must affirm the most recent, even if opposite what came a day earlier.
And if the Vatican declares tomorrow that the structure and prayers of the Mass and all the Sacraments must be changed because “we must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren”* such as Protestants, public sinners, neo-pagans, and the like… Must the positivist shrug and nod assent?
Yes, and more – he must look on the innovations and declare: “Christ died for this! The Incarnate Son of God gave Himself on the altar of the Cross so that you could sacramentally re-present His Sacrifice with balloons and squirtguns, welcoming idolaters and adulterers into the Holy Place.”
If he cannot declare it with conviction, why not? Why hesitate?
Perhaps because there really is a right way to worship – and consequently, a wrong way. Perhaps form and content cannot be divorced, much as the rationalist may wish it so. Perhaps because the blood of those martyred for right worship cries out.
Catholic memory may yet remain.
And where there is memory… there is hope.
“For our Canons and our forms were not given to the Churches at the present day, but were wisely and safely transmitted to us from our forefathers. Neither had our Faith its beginning at this time, but it came down to us from the Lord through His disciples. That therefore the ordinances which have been preserved in the Churches from old time until now, may not be lost in our days, and the trust which has been committed to us required at our hands; rouse yourselves, brethren, as being stewards of the mysteries of God, and seeing them now seized upon by aliens.”
-St. Athanasius, Encyclical Epistle to the Bishops of the World (339 AD)
Tradition. The Rule of Faith.
If one rejects unspecified abuses or general “irreverence” in the Novus Ordo, one does so precisely on the grounds of Catholic Tradition. On those same grounds do we avoid the Novus Ordo itself, its validity and liceity notwithstanding – for this addresses only one aspect of the greater question of dignitate et iustitia in worship.
On the same grounds must priest and faithful stand in the testing hour, even if in the very bosom of the Church.
Where we must ever stand. Where Church has ever stood.
“Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord. Thus giving thanks unto him, and being followers of the saints, ‘we shall make our praise in the Lord all the day,’ as the psalmist says. So, when we rightly keep the feast, we shall be counted worthy of that joy which is in heaven… You are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from apostolic tradition, and frequently accursed envy has wished to unsettle it, but has not been able.”
-St. Athanasius, Festal Letters (330 AD)
Hope is born where memory is recovered.
Bravo the restoration!
UPDATE: For a thoroughgoing and insightful read (brief and approachable, to boot) addressing some of these considerations and more, we heartily recommend The Binding Force of Tradition by Fr. Ripperger, FSSP.
*NOTE: Quote from Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, chief architect of the Novus Ordo Missae, as recorded in L’Osservatore Romano, March 19, 1965, just before the final drafting of the New Mass. A few years into its imposition and the overhaul of all the other rites, the same Archbishop claimed that the liturgical reform “is a major conquest of the Catholic Church” (Notitiae, n. 92, April 1974). Strange, that.